Police Grant Report
Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister
Paul Holmes (Chesterfield, Liberal Democrat)
As we have heard, this is the third year of a three-year settlement and, as such, it holds no surprises. The Government deserve congratulating on the introduction of the three-year process, which applies across all sorts of areas, not just to policing. It makes budgeting for local authorities, schools, hospitals and all sorts of organisations far more effective than the old 12-month, short-termism that meant that no effective planning could be done. It has been a step forward.
Given that this is the third year of the settlement and there are no surprises, much of what we said in the debates on the police grant report last year and the year before still stands; having looked back on those two debates, it appears to me that we said the same thing almost word for word. Most of it does not need repeating, but some of it does. This three-year settlement was the tightest for a decade, but it was still quite reasonable. The great fear now is about what will happen for the next three year period-2011 to 2014. The pre-Budget report estimated a 0.8 per cent. fall in funding for the police from 2011 to 2014, but that is entirely unbelievable. Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, has said:
"I can confidently predict cuts in police budgets of 10 to 20 per cent. over the next few years."
That is probably a much more realistic figure. Interestingly, two university vice-chancellors from my region said at a meeting in this place last night that they had been told by contacts in the Treasury to expect similar cuts in their university budgets. The pre-Budget report estimates a 0.8 per cent. cut in the next three years, whereas Sir Hugh Orde much more realistically estimates a cut of between 10 and 20 per cent.
Such a cut will occur at a time when the police numbers are starting to fall. Figures published this week showed that in six out of 10 police forces numbers, which had reached a record high, were starting to drift downwards; ACPO notes that many forces are already freezing posts in anticipation of what is to come next year and in subsequent years. Today's edition of The Independent contained a report on precisely this in which it said that it has
"learnt that about 2,000 would-be officers were recruited by the Metropolitan Police during...January 2009 and told that they would start their training in spring last year.
Now, despite passing exams and interviews, the successful candidates have received letters informing them that they will not be offered a start date until 2011 at the earliest-almost two years later than they were led to believe."
That is happening across England and Wales.
For example, in Gloucestershire nearly 100 candidates who were recruited have been told that it has been deferred until 2011, possibly later. Similarly, 240 candidates for the West Midlands police have gone through all the stages of the recruitment process only to be told recently that their recruitment has been deferred. Cleveland police had 102 successful recruits treated in exactly the same way, and Cumbria had 59 so treated. That same practice has also happened in Greater Manchester and Hampshire-it is happening across the country. Fears about what cuts are to come are already having an effect, in that police forces are freezing and postponing recruitment. As I have said, numbers are already falling in six out of 10 forces.
Such cuts, should they snowball and continue in the next year or two, will be a tragedy. The Association of Police Authorities said of this grant:
"The provision of effective adequately resourced policing is one of the Government's primary responsibilities in a developed civil society."
In the past few years, such provision has been used to very good effect in the redevelopment of neighbourhood policing, or beat policing as it used to be called. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Conservatives in government slashed police numbers, and one of their defences was that beat police were old-fashioned and out of date, that they did not work, that they were ineffective, that they did not stop crime and that they did not catch criminals-so it did not matter that police numbers were being hit so drastically.
At the very first, when this new Labour Administration came in in 1997, they deployed the same argument for a brief period. They quickly came round to accept, however, that neighbourhood policing is one of the most effective forms of policing. Of course, we have the headline policing issues, such as terrorism, serious crime, bank robberies and so on, but, as the chief constable of Derbyshire-the one who has retired, not the one who is in office now-said some years ago, when he looked at the figures every year, of all the issues and complaints that people in Derbyshire raised, serious crime accounted for only a tiny percentage of them. In their day-to-day lives, people were complaining about, fearful and being bothered by the issues that are relatively low level-vandalism, antisocial behaviour, car theft, burglaries and local drug dealing-when compared with issues such as terrorism.